Review Roundup: LOVE LETTERS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy star in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, opening tonight, September 18, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
LOVE LETTERS is a disarmingly funny and unforgettably emotional portrait about the powerful connection of love. Two friends, rebellious Melissa Gardner and straight-arrow Andrew Makepeace Ladd III have exchanged notes, cards and letters with each other for over 50 years. From second grade, through summer vacations, to college, and well into adulthood, they have spent a lifetime discussing their hopes and ambitions, dreams and disappointments, and victories and defeats. But long after the letters are done, the real question remains: Have they made the right choices or is the love of their life only a letter away?
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: I had a suspicion that Mr. Gurney's play, first seen in New York in 1989 and trotted out regularly since then at regional and amateur theaters the world over, might by now feel as dated as the means by which its characters trade their thoughts. I also thought I detected a little cynicism in bringing what is essentially a staged reading to Broadway, sprucing it up with big names, and charging roughly $140 for a top-price ticket. But before long, my qualms began to erode under the sweet, sad spell of Mr. Gurney's deceptively simple and quietly moving play. As performed by a sterling Mr. Dennehy, playing the rock-solid, letter-loving Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, and an utterly extraordinary Ms. Farrow, as the flighty, unstable and writing-averse Melissa Gardner, Mr. Gurney's intimate drama gains steadily in power, as life keeps ripping away at the seams of its characters' well-tailored existences. The play's means may be economical, but it etches a deep portrait of life's painful vicissitudes.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: What's the minimum requirement for putting on a play? Is it performers? Sets? Memorization? Surely, at a minimum, it's acting, right? More than a quarter-century after "Love Letters" premiered, A.R. Gurney's charming ditty of a play has landed on Broadway with virtually none of the characteristics of what you might expect in a play. While the script is clever, the thinness of the spectacle -- which the author himself insisted upon -- is sadly deflating...You almost feel sorry for Dennehy and Farrow, who are both trapped in a twilight between full-on acting and reading. It's like putting a mighty Rolls-Royce engine into a Fiat 500...Dennehy is great as a young earnest lover and is wonderful years later as a respected man torn in several directions emotionally. Farrow is inspired as a bored, girlish rich girl whose later years are marked by darkness and neediness.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A table, two chairs and a pair of actors reading from scripts on an otherwise bare stage sounds like one notch up from a radio play. But A.R. Gurney's deceptively simple 1988 epistolary two-hander, Love Letters, is that rare work whose emotional richness requires no embellishment in order to become a full-bodied theatrical experience. All that's needed are gifted actors capable of tracing the poignant thread of longing and regret that binds half a century of correspondence between characters whose relationship is thwarted by hesitation. And as the first couple in this production's all-star rotating cast, Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow deliver with impeccable restraint.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Although still a popular regional attraction, this 1989 two-hander has been largely forgotten by Gotham. Or maybe not so much forgotten as deemed irrelevant for a culture that doesn't get the point of love letters, or any kind of letters, or maybe even love itself. Older theatergoers who remember those quaint artifacts should turn out for stars of their own generation who also remember.
David Cote, Time Out NY: Director Gregory Mosher keeps it sweet and simple: Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy sit at a comfy wooden desk, water glasses within reach, reciting from scripts. Both seasoned actors slide easily into their carefully shaded roles: She affects a pixieish impudence as free-thinking rich girl Melissa Gardner; he maintains a stiff sense of propriety as rules-bound Andrew Makepeace Ladd III...As usual with Gurney, the language is wry, witty and balanced by reflexive sadness, a mixed admiration and horror for Eastern WASP repression and snobbery. Although the piece may not push the envelope, it does leave a stamp.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Glimmers of eloquence and much heart remain, though, and they're well served under Gregory Mosher's elegant, affectionate direction. Farrow, still luminous at 69, can be devastatingly coquettish and hilariously self-important as Melissa the girl...but is just as committed to capturing the aging woman's increasing desperation. For Dennehy...Love Letters would seem to present few challenges. But the actor invests the role with a robust, if laid-back energy that never lets us forget Andy's drive to do good, and be good, even when he comes across as conflicted or, occasionally, callous...Gurney's play, even in its mawkish moments, makes a compelling case for a "dying art."
Linda Winer, Newsday: So there is a bit of undeniable wistfulness in the Broadway return of "Love Letters,"...But this turns out to be anything but a middlebrow, star-driven gimmick of nostalgia marketing. At least that's true with the inaugural pairing of the phenomenal Mia Farrow and the touchingly solid Brian Dennehy in director Gregory Mosher's minimal, subtle production...Dennehy...has a poignant vulnerability as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, the responsible one who loves writing and who never dared displease others to fulfill his own desires. But what a range of emotions Farrow portrays as she simply sits reading behind the desk...As Melissa Gardner, Farrow somehow transforms from bright, petulant, rich girl to restless woman and disturbed loner with little more than a squint or a bray or a flick of her long, fuzzy, golden hair. It is hard to believe she has not spent her life on the New York stage.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: To truly appreciate all that "Love Letters" has to offer, just sit there and listen...Dennehy and Farrow have chemistry in abundant supply...Their rhythms--the hurried back-and-forths in the heat of an argument, the pregnant pauses, when someone's feelings have been injured--are a testament to strong direction by Gregory Mosher...I thrilled at Farrow's relief when Melissa hears from Andy after a prolonged absence. I felt the agony to my bones when Melissa realizes Andy has abandoned her...Dennehy, with his gruff mannerisms and scowl, is excellent in a role that is, in ways, the more complex. Andy proves partly responsible for Melissa's descent--yet the play can only stay on solid ground if Andy is ultimately likable. He pulls it off with authority. Dennehy and Farrow are simply well-matched.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Before her career was totally upstaged by personal traumas, Mia Farrow could be flighty and flinty, delicate and dynamic -- and always real -- in her acting. Good news, she's still got the magic. It's in full view in the first-class Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney's 1988 play, "Love Letters." And Farrow's matched note-for-note by Brian Dennehy...Stage vet Dennehy brings a steady sturdiness as Andy, narrowing his eyes and shifting in his seat to suggest regret and uncertainty under the calm surface. Melissa is the more colorful character. Farrow brings her to life with vivid facial expressions and vocal inflections.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Dennehy, a two-time Tony winner, has been a steady presence on Broadway in the last few decades--and he brings a stalwart, hunched-over gravitas to Andrew, a self-serious young man who's brief youthful indiscretions naturally give way to a Rockefeller-Republican conservatism. The real surprise here is Farrow, returning to the Main Stem for the first time in 18 years...She's a real actress, and she uses her considerable tools and her wonderful voice to evoke Melissa's girlish naivete, her teenage petulance, and then her grown-up insecurity...Love Letters reminds us that class can not only us in our place, but thwart any effort to forge real connections outside of ourselves. B+
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: Seeing Love Letters once again, twenty-five years later, I find it far better than remembered. Gurney's play, as revived at the Brooks Atkinson under the direction of Gregory Mosher, is smart, delightful, and moving...The difference could just come from the marvelous performances by Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, on display through October 10; but I have a hunch that this production will retain its magic once the initial cast is gone...Dennehy effortlessly charms and entertains us here, grafting a touch of stodgily stuffy smugness onto the otherwise likeable character. Farrow, somewhat surprisingly, is giving the best performance we've seen from her...In any event, Dennehy is the sturdy rock of this Love Letters while Farrow grabs us and pulls us into the emotional center.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Aside from being prescient, Gurney is not a subtle playwright. Melissa and Andrew's childhood exchanges are as cute as they are dull...She's born rich, he services the rich. So what's their problem? Unlike Farrow, Dennehy doesn't affect a kid-like sing song voice for his early readings. But this actor could read the phone book and be engaging. Instead, he's performing "Love Letters," so we don't have a choice. Farrow has the far juicier part...Farrow gets to show evidence of alcoholism, substance abuse, artistic failure, and the pressures of being the Other Woman to a well-known politician. Gurney may have written a caricature, but Farrow colors it with a heartfelt performance...Hopefully Farrow's month-long stint in "Love Letters" leads to future Broadway assignments.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: The grip it maintains for much of its 90 minutes is partially due to Gurney's shrewd employment of tried-and-true dramatic elements. The passage of time - people going from youth to late middle age - is always poignant. And so is the notion of two individuals failing to recognize the true love they're meant to share. But the playwright also deserves credit for a crisp, amusing and actor-friendly script. He gives skilled performers such as Farrow and Dennehy the opportunity, under limiting circumstances, to bring characters to vivid life.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Surprisingly, Farrow - who has considerably less stage experience than Dennehy - is the stronger. She looks slightly nerdy, as if she hasn't changed her eyeglasses since the 1980s, and still has a waifish, diffident presence. Yet she also easily handles Melissa's flip, seemingly insouciant personality, as when blithely dismissing one of her friend's letters: "I guess you have a lot of interesting things to say, Andy, but some of them are not terribly interesting to me." Granted, Melissa is more colorful - she goes through a greater variety of emotions, and has all the good lines. But Dennehy's Andy remains pretty much the same throughout, while Farrow subtly suggests the arc from child to teen to college student to grown woman.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Gurney has an overfondness for structural tricks; another is currently on view in The Wayside Motor Inn at the Signature. But in Love Letters, at least, the artificial restriction brought out something compensatory in him, especially when the letters are allowed to escape their strict my-turn-your-turn alternation. Most moving are the holes, the lacunae left by one character's refusal, in a snit or in trouble, to reply, or to accept the feeble cajolery of the other, sometimes for years. The result, tellingly, is a spongiform record of a relationship. Are not all relationships as much empty space as connective tissue? But the pitfalls of the play's structure are just as evident, and Gurney steps right into them. How, for instance, do you end such a correspondence? Gurney does it, unfortunately, with an explicitly heart-tugging coda that breaks the frame - too little, too late. In a play (or even just an event) clearly meant to be a love letter to writing letters, he settles for a most uncomplimentary close.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: One reason why "Love Letters" is so frequently produced is that it's written in such a way as to facilitate both come-and-go celebrity casting and bargain-basement staging. Not only is there no set, but the actors sit together at a table and read from scripts instead of memorizing their lines. But the enduring success of "Love Letters" is far more than a mere matter of logistical convenience. It's one of Mr. Gurney's best plays, a tender study of thwarted love: Melissa is a scatty upper-class rebel, Andy is a stuffy upper-middle-class striver, and as they read a lifetime's worth of letters out loud, you come to know them so well that their parallel sorrows seem as familiar as your own.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg